Friday, July 8, 2016

The #1 Reason for Poor Student Performances

The Author of "The #1 Reason for Poor Student Performances", Derek Beres, makes a compelling argument as he rails against the long held belief that economics is the number one determinate of educational success (read my blog, "A Bridge Too Far""). His article, "The #1 Reason", suggests that stress is the most critical determinate of educational success. 

This was a powerful reminder of the influence our brain has on education.  How ironic is it that as educators we forget (or don't truly understand) the role the brain plays in regards to using our brain!  I am somewhat of a nerd and I have passionately read and maintained an understanding of neuroscience and the influence it can have on education.  That being said, I agree with the author that stress does play a critical role on educational attainment.  I am not certain that it is the most powerful predictor, however, it plays a significant role and needs to be examined more.

An age old theory of brain development is the Triune Brain Theory (founded by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean).  This theory states that the brain has three different and separate components that have evolved over time: Reptilian, Mammalian and the Neo-Cortex.  Germane to this writing is the Reptilian brain.  The author correctly identifies this part of the brain as the Lizard brain.  This is because it corresponds with the anatomy of a lizard brain.  This part of the brain is in charge of the three major F's: food (survival), flight (survival), and fornication (species survival).  The ultimate goal for the reptilian brain is survival. 

Stressful situations are what drive the reptilian brain into action.  It is also important to know that when enacted the reptilian brain has the ability to over ride or shut down the Neo-Cortex (which is the portion of the brain that is used for reasoning, among many others).  When enacted the reptilian brain will go into fight or flight (defend of run).  Couple this what we know about students in a state of prolonged and chronic stress.  Students who experience prolonged and chronic stress have a reptilian brain that is always on high alert.  These students tend to quickly and frequently respond to stimuli with fight of flight (defend or run).

What stressors cause the reptilian brain to engage and overthrow the Neo-Cortex?  Experiences or stimuli that the student is uncomfortable, unfamiliar or challenged with (among others).  Therefore, students who are chronically stressed will not respond well to intimidation, screaming or any form of fear.  These students will either fight back in an irrational way or shut down. 

Students who are confronted with a new, complex, unfamiliar and uncomfortable challenges can be moved into fight or flight.  Think of all the potential scenarios that this could be associated with.  Many of the experiences that a student in school would encounter could engage and enact the reptilian brain (high stakes testing, a new curriculum, a challenging class, the dynamics of small group work, etc...). These experiences are stressors and do indeed impact student achievement and educational attainment.

What are the best practices we can use to marginalize the impact of stress?  Outside of creating and fostering an environment that allows all student to learn and a non-confrontation school environment, to date, I am not familiar with any quality best practices.  As I said earlier, this challenge in education needs to be scrutinized and researched more. 

A good place to start is to read the above linked article and the accompanying research within the article.